If you've ever tried to walk up to a total stranger, making a sales pitch, and then closing the sale, you know just how fruitless that approach usually is.
After all, that person doesn't know you, and if they don't know you, they can't buy from you, in the words of sales guru Grant Cardone.
The sales process is about building trust in you as a salesperson as well as interest in your product, whether you deal with B2B sales or sell direct to consumer. Without both, you won't close a sale, and so you have to be methodical as you attempt to move a potential customer closer to becoming an actual customer.
Here's what you need to know about the sales process in order to become a top-notch salesperson.
At a glance: How to develop your own sales process
- Step 1: Create a customer profile
- Step 2: Develop a schedule
- Step 3: Know your pitch back to front
- Step 4: Create a list of common objections
- Step 5: Develop more closing techniques
What is the sales process?
The sales process is the steps a salesperson goes through in order to take a prospect from interest in the product to an actual purchase.
While all customers are different, they share common characteristics, so it's wise to have a sales flow that you follow for each one of them that involves different types of contacts and stages when you advance that customer closer to the sale.
Established sales procedures can boost a salesperson's efficiency and close rate dramatically.
What is the sales cycle?
The sales life cycle refers to the process the company itself goes through when trying to sell a product to a client.
Companies tend to have their own versions, but a typical sales cycle starts with a prospect and finishes with closing a deal. Companies must keep track of sales cycles in order to ensure that their operation is as efficient as it can be.
Understanding the steps in the sales process
Exactly how many steps there are in the sales process depends on who you ask, but for the purposes of fully breaking it down we're going to describe seven steps that most salespeople agree on in some form or another.
Step 1: Prospect development
In the first step, you identify a prospect and qualify them, which means you determine whether this potential customer is really likely to buy from you.
In some ways, this is the most important step, because if you don’t properly vet prospects, you’ll waste a lot of time on steps 2-7 on people that were never going to buy from you.
Step 2: Preparation
Now that you've qualified your prospect, it's time to do your research.
You must familiarize yourself with the prospect’s needs and anticipate their objections as you make your pitch. A well-prepared salesperson builds trust in the client, and trust is essential to a sale.
Step 3: Approach
It's not until the third step when you actually make contact with the customer, and for good reason.
With a solid understanding of the client in hand, you can now make an introduction, perhaps engage in some small talk on matters of interest to the client, and ask a few questions to probe interest while explaining a little about your company.
Remember: you're not diving into the sale just yet.
Step 4: Presentation
Now that the customer knows who you are, and seems to have some interest in what you have to offer, it's time to ask for a meeting to make a presentation.
This is where you discuss the customer's problem and how your product or service will solve it.
Step 5: Handling objections
You will almost always face objections, from "we don't have the budget" to "I'm just not sure it's the right time to make a change."
If you've done your research in step 2, you should be prepared to handle these objections and pivot to a different part of the pitch.
For example, you might show your client, with hard numbers, the potential lost profits a purchase delay produces.
Step 6: Closing
The close is what separates an average salesperson from a good salesman. At this point, your client should be ready to make a decision, so it's time to simply ask for the sale. Make sure you have the paperwork ready to sign.
The goal is to make saying "yes" as easy as possible.
Step 7: Follow-up
Closing isn't the end of the story.
In many cases, your client could change his or her mind, and at the very least they may decide never to buy from you again if they don't love the product or your support of it.
Send a follow-up email or reach out with a phone call to make sure they are enjoying the product — and if they aren't, figure out what you can do to fix the situation.
How to create and monitor your own sales process
Now that you understand the elements of a great sales process, it’s time to take a few simple steps to create your own.
Create a customer profile
In order to prospect properly, you should create a customer profile that lays out everything about your potential client.
What creating a customer profile looks like:
- Ask yourself what your ideal customer looks like, from title to industry to product or service.
- Identify your customer’s specific problem.
- Detail exactly how your product fixes that problem.
Develop a schedule
You should have a schedule in place that lays out when you follow up with a client, when you submit a proposal, etc.
What developing a schedule looks like:
- Review your current sales process. How soon after initial contact do you attempt to set up a meeting? How long after the presentation do you attempt to close?
- Take a hard look at your sales process: do you think you are taking too long to follow up during one stage? Experiment with shortening it up to see how it impacts your success rate.
- Use your CRM software solution to keep your schedule organized.
Know your pitch back to front
Don’t rely on slides to tell your story; you should be able to discuss it at a moment’s notice if the opportunity presents itself.
What memorizing your pitch looks like:
- Create a number of variations for your pitch, from the long presentation to the elevator pitch.
- Practice delivering each of them in front of the mirror whenever you have the chance.
- Rehearse your pitches with a colleague.
Create a list of common objections
When clients object for any reason, you should be prepared to answer them immediately.
What mastering objections looks like:
- Take notes at each client meeting.
- Write down each objection you hear, and keep track of which ones you hear the most.
- In your downtime, develop responses to each objection, and familiarize yourself with them.
Develop more closing techniques
By having a range of closing techniques in your arsenal, you can quickly pivot if you run into problems.
What developing closing techniques looks like:
- Take notes at meetings and identify which closes seem to work the best.
- Experiment with different wording choices.
- Never stop refining your closes, and experimenting with new ones.
Should you use a CRM for your sales process?
Yes; in fact, it’s hard to imagine how you could have an effective sales process without CRM software. CRM software allows salespeople to create an organized workflow as they juggle multiple clients at different stages of the sales process.
Without a CRM software solution, you risk losing track of clients just as they are ready to close, or driving away customers you haven’t progressed far enough toward a purchase.
You need a sales process now
If you’re just winging it, you need to stop right now. A great salesperson is organized and has a very methodical process for contacting clients and slowly moving them in the right direction.
In order to increase your close rate as well as the number of prospects you attempt to close on, you need to fully understand the seven phases of the sales process and then implement your own process that incorporates those phases.
It’s relatively simple and you probably have something like it already. You just need to take a few hours to refine it.
The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends HubSpot and Salesforce.com. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.